Bangkok

Arriving in Bangkok is organised, air-conditioned bliss after the anarchy of Kathmandu…even if you’ve grown fonder to the craziness as I had. Everything in Bangkok is signposted, efficient (take a ticket number for an airport taxi and go to the booth with the same number, voila!) and there are plenty of people around to ask for help. Still, after an intrepid first fortnight of travels, I felt a slight sinking feeling as we stepped back into an intensely structured universe.

Thankfully, that sanitised order ended at the airport door – the area around our hotel in China Town was more like a bustling street bazaar full of exotic food for sale like Durian, sticky mango rice and Jack Fruit. Delicious!

With its rich-poor divide, its drive for convenience and modern comforts (particularly good coffee) and its seedier side nestled down dark alleys, Bangkok is like many cities I’ve visited before. But it has its own vibe too. It has alligator-like lizards swimming in its canals, Tuk Tuks dressed up with flashing lights zipping down busy alleys, anything you can imagine available to buy on its streets and an architecture style that is completely new for me. 


The lizards of the canal – Water Monitor lizards.

Day 1 sees us decide to walk the 30 minute journey from our hotel to the Grand Palace as a novelty after it being near impossible to walk in Kathmandu due to pollution. The humidity gets in on me and it’s clear why most people ride mopeds rather than walk here. I worry that this heat may bring about some issues with my MG as I feel exhausted almost right away. But I learn on that first day that an air con break with a delicious fruit smoothie and a salty sandwich is what will revitalise me here, not my normal caffeine fix. 

Over the next 4 days we try to take in as much of the city as we can including temples, art exhibitions, a boat trip, shopping, night life and a ladyboy cabaret. We also dedicate a day to our hotel’s rooftop pool and bar; watching the boats on the Chao Praya river and trying to conquer the inflatable flamingo. Thus in Bangkok we try to cement the balance of ‘doing’ and ‘being’ that we want to keep throughout the trip. This trip is about rest and recovery as much as it’s about adventure.

I’m not sure what I expected, but Bangkok is definitely better. From a privileged tourist perspective, the value for money is unreal compared to home, it’s easy to get around and no matter where you are at what time of day or night, there’s a Tuk Tuk or taxi driver waiting to haggle with you – and 9/10 times for me they were polite. While there are quite a lot of Seven 11s, Starbucks and McDonalds, there are a lot less chains here which allows different areas to have their own feel.

I have no doubt that Bangkok has its own issues (many of which lurk down those dark alleys), but as someone passing through its relaxed atmosphere, variety of attractions and affordability mean I’m certain I’ll be back here.

Trekking in the Himalayas 

After a couple of days rest in beautiful Pokhara, I can hardly believe what the last week has entailed and how well my body has coped. 

When we decided to go to Nepal, we initially signed up for the Annapurna Circuit trek. This is an 18 day trek with 11 days of walking. However, neither of us have been above 3000m (the level that altitude starts to impact most people) before and the circuit trek reaches over 5000m. Our initial excitement was replaced by last minute panic, as I had no idea how much impact the lack of oxygen would have on my MG and the only option from some of the places along the way was to be helicoptered out. So we changed to a 6 day trek below 3000m – with equally stunning views and daily yoga sessions. 

Elaine and I joined a group of 4 lovely women to trek through squelching jungles and up the 2500m Panachassee mountain (Nepalis consider this a hill). Our daily schedule was a morning yoga class, a hike, an evening stretching session when we reached our destination and an hour of relaxation – mostly with the soothing singing bowl.


The Buddhist temple at the Panachassee summit.

How it went

Between the strength-based yoga sessions and the daily step count, I was nervous about how my body would handle its first challenge in an alien ecosystem. The walking wasn’t too strenuous – we spent between 3 and 7 hours walking each day. However we were battling a relentless sun, post-Monsoon season boggy ground, leeches, steep upward and downward ‘paths’, jungle insects, lots of creepy crawlies in our rooms at night, and, on one day, the heaviest rain I’ve ever had the pleasure of walking in (says something considering I’m used to walking in Scotland). 

The group also collectively battled a lack of sleep – from 2 nights before the trek I managed only broken sleep and this continued right through to day 3 of the trek. Because we were tired each night, we all wondered whether there was less oxygen above 2000m and whether this was impacting our zzzz time?! 


Our rustic accommodation in Bhadure.

Coping with sleeplessness

After another restless first night of the trek, I decided to double my steroid dose and take a pyridostigmine just in case. I only did that for one day as I felt strong and healthy during the other days.

When it came after 4 horrible nights, 6 hours of solid sleep left me jumping out of bed to embrace the day. I’ve never felt better than during the yoga session that morning in Bhanyajang – watching the Annapurna range appear and disappear behind the clouds and feeling like I could hold the poses for hours.

While it was psychologically challenging, the lack of sleep didn’t challenge my body as much as I expected. In fact, I’ve rarely felt better than during those five days of circadian rhythm and healthy eating. 

Back to basics

The accommodation was rustic, with Nepali rather than western toilets (essentially a tiled hole in the ground), cold water, no electricity for part of the trek due to thunder storms and, shock horror, no internet. However I adapted quickly and was a little upset when the electricity returned. Saying that, I was so grateful for a bucket of hot water during my last night in Bhanyajang that a few moans escaped as I tipped the water over my head and felt my tired muscles relax.



Our toilet in Bhanyajang.

All good things must come to an end

We watched the landscape change from a quaint mountain village with locals lounging and Tibetan women selling bright jewellery to woodland paths; from dusty tracks to open hillsides; from endless stone steps to dense jungle full of mutlicoloured butterflies; from fields of buffalo grazing to hilltop temples in the mist; from ridges with endless mountains in the distance and eagles swooping to rice and millet fields lit up by the warm afternoon sun. Finally we found ourselves back in a different village in the throws of Dashain celebrations – giant swings are made out of bamboo and bright coloured decorations on the streets.

By our 6th early morning of yoga back in Pokhara, my body was tired and I felt fatigued as we travelled to our new hotel. But taking a nap right away followed by a couple of rest days helped my recharge and I found myself back on my brand new yoga mat two days later.

Having loved Panachassee trek, I’m determined to try a longer, more challenging trek in the incredible Himalayas (with some kind of sleep remedy in my first aid kit). We’re likely to be above altitude in South America for a short time so it’ll be a good test to see how my body responds. Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle the Annapurna Circuit or something similar in the future as the thought of spending triple the amount of time out in that beautiful countryside fills me with pure joy. 


Walking through rice fields on our last day of trekking.

Travel vaccines and myasthenia

There were a lot of expenses for our extended honeymoon before we left home and now that we’re ‘here’, I’m not sure how many of them were necessary. The most important and least pleasurable pre-travel expense was the money for injections.

I spent around £500 on injections over a period of 5 weeks and felt like a pin cushion. While I don’t grudge money spent in order to keep myself healthy, it was difficult to hear that because of suppressing my immune system it’s not guaranteed that any of the 11 injections will work. Goodbye £500.

Still, like a reasonable non-stingy (cough cough Scottish) adult, I figured it’s better to have them than to leave myself open to a range of exotic diseases – most of which the pharmacist explained in far too much detail. He was who you should talk to if you never want to adventure beyond your bedroom. 

Side effects 

I was mostly fine after the injections excluding some heavy arms and the first three injection day where I felt nauseous and lightheaded. On other days I was able to go for a light run or swim on the same day as the vaccines. 

No can do

A vaccine that is recommended for the areas we’re travelling to and that I couldn’t get was yellow fever. As it’s a live vaccine, I wasn’t allowed to have it due to my thymectomy and immunosuppression – there’s a risk I’ll get the disease from the vaccine.

The mosquito-carried disease doesn’t have a presence in Nepal or south east Asia so I’m safe for now, but it has a grip on certain parts of South America including the Amazon rainforest. While I don’t need it for this stretch of the trip, I need to carefully pick where I travel to in SA. This unfortunately means minimising my time in Brazil. 

Instead of the vaccine, I got a yellow exemption card (pictured) which will hopefully allow me into the infected countries if not the infected regions. 

So while it was a ‘pain’ to spend so much on vaccines which aren’t guaranteed to work, as I travel to my next destination it brings me peace of mind to know I’ve done all I can.